Legengs & Folklore
Words by Carol Cook (originally published in Lake Granbury Living, Winter 2014) Photography provided by enVision Creative Services
Granbury’s soul is like most places and unlike anywhere else. Old west legends, fine people, building booms, railroading, and questionable citizens make for accounts of a lawless way of life in the 1800’s. Famous events, unique people and semi-documented tales of wonder are sprinkled through the years, proof of their existence found in library archives, museums, and books. Dinosaurs once roamed the area, native Indians lived here, pioneers came to settle, and outlaws bullied the town until lawmen chased them away making for a much more peaceful existence.
Like many towns across the country, Granbury history is fascinating, intriguing, and also questionable. While it evolved from documented facts, recollections of those with their own idea of what transpired, newspaper reporters and historians added their own versions, sometimes disagreeing on exactly what took place, creating doubt as to their accuracy. And so we are left with opposing opinions and often lively discussions on who and what to believe.
And yet, our town proudly celebrates its history, outlaw and Civil War facts, brave frontiersman and women, pioneer ranchers, lawmen and native Indian tribes. Legends both factual and debatable, including stories circulating John Wilkes Booth, assassin of President Lincoln. We are led to believe he wasn’t killed in Virginia, escaping instead, making his way to Granbury where he allegedly lived as a private citizen known as John St. Helen. According to many, his spirit is still here, hanging out at the Opera House. Although, it may be a concern he has sought out a quieter place during the recent renovation of the building.
Perhaps Mr. Booth has joined other spirits, ghosts who inhabit the old jail, all sharing adventure stories. One such spirit is said to go by the name of Lonely Joe, thought to be a lost Native Indian aimlessly wandering, or it could be a former inmate, even the ghost of a sheriff. Trust me they are there, who they are we aren’t exactly sure, but we do hear them coming and going and feel their presence from time to time.
“John Wilkes Booth wanted poster” by Unknown – Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
…just who is strolling along side when we walk about the town?
And so we ask, which are true and which are false, about this plot of earth. Could something have been misunderstood, heard incorrectly, embellished a little? We do know General Hiram Granbury, Jesse James, Davy Crockets grandson, and a fair number of American Indians once lived here and are buried here. But, we are curious about the sightings of spirits and ghosts still cavorting about the streets, buildings, and cemetery.
Some folks are surprised, some not, to learn a number of characters linger, cliché ridden stories, some arguably invented. We listen in awe as incidents are remembered, the telling and retelling by witnesses claiming to have seen, heard, and felt the presence of the long passed. Legends, notorious and intriguing, speculated uncertainty, a rich and spellbinding history we believe to be true.
But times of rowdy fighting and drinking in saloons on the square, incarcerations, and escapes at the old jail, trials and mayhem in the courthouse, are all gone to history. Thankfully, documents can be viewed and what was once news can be seen in the courthouse that stands guard over the town square. A treasure trove stored inside a hundred-year old vault, with stories of its own to tell. Or we can speculate who was sentenced to hang for murder, cattle rustling, and horse thieving during those disreputable, untamed times. Perhaps a few questionable trials were held here, some not so fair; for its possible documents may have been recklessly and hastily signed by an over worked judge, anxious to call it a day.
There is speculation and doubt the ghost of a bank robber might roam the premises of the City National Bank building on the corner of Pearl and Houston Streets, which is now a ladies dress store. Or perhaps the cavorting about we hear in the newly renovated building is made by a restless female ghost who has taken up residence. It would seem the perfect place with all the showy trimmings there, certainly not a place where a rowdy robber would set up his haunting.
Perhaps the spirit of Mary Lou Watkins, although she seems quite happy roaming the Nutt House Hotel, might be curious about the collection of ladies frills and trinkets and stroll over for a spell. Or perhaps Audrey who resides at the Gordon House would be curious too; even an apparition of a painted woman or a member of the Women’s Temperance Movement might be prancing about the fine clothes. Females, even ghostly ones are usually drawn to such finery. Which brings us to wonder; just who is strolling along side when we walk about the town?
Tall tales can be troublesome when it comes to verifying how they began, but there are rumors aged with decades that come with no proof other than the story told again and again with not a bit of documentation; still we want to believe. Did a meteorite really hit Comanche Peak sometime around the 1890’s? Is the story true or a made up yarn woven by speculation on what caused the large ravine on the peak? Seems there was a witness to this tale living in a cabin on the east side of the cliff.
Sound asleep on a summer night he awoke to an unusually loud crash, as if something very large had hit the ground, tumbling rocks rolling downhill, gathering speed as trees were crushed. As he leapt from his bed, dashed outside, to his horror, he saw large boulders barreling toward his cabin; minutes before it was destroyed, he scurried aside. Would the Meteorite Men of TV fame find fragments of out of this world stones on Comanche Peak if they came in search, or will this story forever be nothing more than a tall tale?
Given the storytelling over the course of decades, there seems a tendency for a number of citizens to invent that which takes their fancy, giving us pause that some tales are true and others created, or solid, trustworthy and believable. Yet, such descriptions have an uncanny consistency; and so we ask. Are the ghosts or apparitions of dubious characters, or unpredictable long ago citizens, some not so law abiding, several quite worthy, hanging around to make for a number of unusual occurrences in today’s modern world? Are there other worldly stones on Comanche Peak?
If one is interested in doing a bit of homework, or take time to ask merchants on the square, it’s possible there will be varied, peculiar, and true answers, doubts laid to rest. Visit the square just before dawn and it’s possible you may catch a glimpse of Jesse, John, General Granbury, Tonkawa, Kiowa, or some Comanche Indians, surely Indian Joe. Walk over to the Gordon House for a glimpse of little Audrey, the young spirit of Miss Gordon, playing there. Spend time in the Nutt House to catch a movement that could be Mary Lou, the lady in red, or an unknown.
In our small community, size is not the most meaningful measure of a place, when combining history and people. All in all, we feel quite pleased with our town, confident the celebrated citizens and history is ours to treasure. Legends, ghosts, accomplishments, and the beautiful lake running along the town’s edge make for a most interesting place to settle in, a place to preserve what we want to remember, stories worth telling and hearing, even the ghostly ones.